One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Simplicity: Chanel Eau de Cologne

I seem to have liked all the Chanel Exclusifs so far--not necessarily head-over-heels about them, but all the ones I've tried have been really good--so I was all set to dislike Chanel Eau de Cologne, so that I wouldn't seem as if I were simply drooling all over them because they were Chanel. But damned if EdC isn't really good as well.

Here's the thing, though; it's sort of hard to make a genuinely bad eau de cologne, which follows a set structure: choose some citrus fruits for the top, put something with a bit of body in the middle, maybe lay it all on top of something warm, and you're done. There are lots of colognes on the market, and they're generally pleasant to wear and smell: I don't recall having tried a truly bad one.

There are all sorts of variations, of course: the middle can have flowers or green notes, the base can be most any wood or resin, and you have a wide array of citrus to choose from in the top (not to mention sparkling aldehydes and light florals if you like), including begamot, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, tangerine, neroli, and yuzu. But the fact is that as a rule, most eaux de cologne are going to smell more or less the same, and this, unfortunately, is also true of the Chanel EdC. It's lovely; plenty of lemon, a droplet of rose, a little vetiver, a musky base. It smells bright and fresh and happy. The lasting power, as you'd expect from such a formulation, is almost nil: an hour, perhaps two. It's meant to be lavished on, enjoyed for its short-lived freshness, and reapplied as needed--the heart and soul of any EdC.

Someone out there will disagree, because some people must be buying it, but I can't see that it's worth almost $200 for a 200-mL bottle (you can also get a giant 400-mL vat), not when you can get many classic colognes for a lot less. The ancient 4711, the very template for an EdC, is an eighth the price of the Chanel; the only thing it's missing is the ritzy bottle and the name.


Commenting on my review of Coromandel, Clare said

This one makes me feel like a fragrance philistine. I feel that, due to inferiority (whether inherent or due to lack of knowledge/experience), I am not "getting" the greatness or appeal of it.

Well, listen: don't ever let anyone make you feel inferior for not liking something that everyone else seems to think is great. Every artist, however gifted, and every work of art, however important, has detractors. George Bernard Shaw disdained Shakespeare, saying, "With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his."

There are artworks that most anybody can appreciate, and then there are those that appeal to people who've done the research, who have studied the form. Most people can enjoy a Rossini tune, but it takes some study to understand and derive pleasure from a Berg opera. And then there is the fact that different people have different tastes; even if the masses declared Coromandel the greatest thing since Shalimar, if you don't like it, then you don't like it, and that's all there is to it. And that's all right.

If it makes you feel any better, I don't get Jicky by Guerlain. It's supposed to be one of the greatest scents in history, but it simply doesn't interest me very much. I know all about its history, and I can smell it and understand that it is a ground-breaking work of art, see the craftsmanship in it. But that's all: I don't love it, it doesn't speak to me, I don't desire it. It is not immediate for me, as many other scents, even lesser ones, are. Does that make me a philistine too? Then so be it. I'm a philistine. I have lots of other scents to turn my attention to.


  • I don't really "get" Jicky, either, and while I haven't spent that many years as a perfumista, I like to think that I am no philistine.
    I think you expressed perfectly how I feel about purchasing an expensive EdC if one is happy with a less costly one. I guess I have trouble with the whole concept of an expensive EdC, as I want my costlier scents to last a while and make some kind of psychological impact. I do keep a bottle of Gray Flannel in the fridge for spraying on self and others when the heat and humidity are both in the 90's (Fahrenheit). Maybe that means I *am* a philistine! (joking)
    I'm enjoying your series on the Chanels. I noticed you mentioned not having Bois de Isles. Is that by design? I have a decant, and whenever I wear it, I wonder why I didn’t choose something more interesting, all the while appreciating that it’s really quite beautiful.

    By Blogger Existentialist, at 1:28 PM  

  • I have a bottle of Grey Flannel, too. Nothing wrong with that: it's a classic. I have all kinds of cheap things, department store scent and Demeters, that I get plenty of joy out of. If you find a really, completely, seriously dirt-cheap scent that 1) smells good on you and 2) makes you happy, then why be ashamed of it? Even rich people shop at the bargain basement sometimes.

    Tthe idea of a high-end eau de cologne is lost on me, too, because there's just not enough distinction between the members of the family: is a $200 EdC really that much better than a $20 one? The Comme des Garçons cologne series comes closest to being really distinctive, but even they aren't drastically different from other colognes. At least they're relatively inexpensive, currently about $50 for a 125-mL bottle.

    I don't have Bois des Iles because I ordered a set of decants from The Perfumed Court and failed to notice that I had ordered only the newest scents and not the reissues. I have Cuir de Russie because that was in another sample set, of leather scents.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 2:17 PM  

  • I hope that Clare is reading this because I'm about to join her in the philistine support group:

    Shalimar leaves me cold. There. I said it. Others rave about it, but it's as though we're discussing two different perfumes. So I shrug my shoulders and move on. There are always other works of art to enjoy.

    By Anonymous Aparatchick, at 1:49 PM  

  • I love the idea of Shalimar, but the execution is kind of over the top, particularly in the extrait. (I think if you parceled it out with the head of a pin you would be on the right track.) I'll wear the EDT every now and then but I have to really, really be in the mood for that brand of overwhelming oriental vanilla sweetness. And this is coming from someone who loves orientals, loves vanillas, loves extremes.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 3:08 PM  

  • To me, 4711 and Agua Lavanda Puig are the only two colognes I'll ever really need, with occasional visits to the Pinaud line, particularly Special Reserve. Gallons of 4711 can be had for under $30, and Agua Lavanda Puig makes for an amazing splash from the 7 oz glass bottle. I love Chanel, but unfortunately I can't see ever owning their Eau de Cologne, for the simple reason that the entire thing is overpriced for what it is. But I certainly can understand the beauty of it. To each his own I guess.

    By Blogger Bryan Ross, at 9:28 PM  

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